Evident by the number of inclusions on this site, my love for fennel runs deep. I have some sympathy for those who claim to be anti-anise and steer clear of the raw stuff. But when braised, any trace of liquorice transforms into a mellow sweet softness.
While braised fennel may not win any awards for “most colourful side dish”, its candied tenderness brings home all the trophies. And the appeal of this versatile side of the moment is that it's just as good either warm, or room temperature and a tasty companion to just about any seasonal salad, grain, or main.
I make this all winter long when looking for that ideal accompaniment to roast fish, chicken or braised meat. True, that for a standard one dish meal, I often cook the fennel with the chicken thighs in one tray, or sliced either under a shoulder of lamb or a side of salmon, but sometimes it just works to my advantage to let it sing all on its own.
Braised fennel was one of the ingredients in our salad served alongside cured salmon and fruit and nut bread as the starters for our Thanksgiving Supper Club last week (pictures at the bottom of this post). The bronzed fennel sat on a bed of radicchio, endive and gem hearts with roasted beets, thinly sliced watermelon radish and raw fennel. Not a piece was left.
I would be willing to bet, if you served this under a different name to anyone who declares they are a fennel hater, the majority would be converted. I dare you.
This is basically fennel pieces, browned in a little olive oil (or butter if you like) and gently cooked in a little vermouth. I use vermouth simply as I rarely have an open bottle of white wine lying around, and as I prefer to drink red, I would hate to waste it. But if you are cooking a few dishes with white wine, feel free to use some of it up here. And if you have no wine or vermouth on hand just use either vegetable or chicken stock. It will still be delicious.
I like to add aromatics to this but that is because I am a little fresh herb obsessed. If you don’t have any handy, don’t worry, make it anyway.
3 medium fennel (preferably with some fonds for garnish)
salt and pepper
1 tbs olive oil
1 bay leaf (optional)
3 sprigs of thyme (optional)
125ml (1/2 cup) vermouth (I always have Noily Prat on hand), white wine or stock
60ml (1/4 cup) water
2-3 tbsp of chopped fennel fonds for garnish (if you have any)
Cut each fennel lengthways into 8 pieces (halve, and then into quarters and then halve each quarter). Season with salt and pepper on all sides
Place a large heavy bottomed sauce pan or sauté pan with a lid on a medium heat. Add the olive oil (or butter if you prefer) and allow to gently warm but not get too hot.
Add the fennel pieces on their sides, and cook for 3-5 minutes until they are browned. Add the bay leaf and or thyme. Carefully turn over and cook on the other side until just starting to colour (they will colour more as they cook).
Add the vermouth or wine and allow to bubble until the alcohol burns off (only a minute or so). Add the water and cover with a tight fitting lid. Turn the heat down and cook until the fennel is soft and cooked through, about 20- 30 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. Check after 15 minutes to make sure the liquid has not evaporated too much and add a little water if needed.
Serve immediately or allow to cool and keep in the fridge for snacks, salads or sides during the week.
And just for a little fun, here are some photos of last week's Thanksgiving Supper Club